OKMULGEE, Okla. - Native American youth living within the eight counties of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation are getting firsthand experience about working in the real world, thanks a federal grant through the Department of Labor's Workforce Investment Act.
For nearly 25 years, the Creek Nation Summer Youth Employment program has given youths from16 to 21 a chance to decide what they want to do when they grow up.
College students are able to find jobs in their field of study and high school students can test the waters in the real workaday world. Since its inception, the program has served thousands of students, any number of 230 to 250 each year, which adds up to a lot of young people being able to learn the work ethic firsthand, staff members said.
And it has made a real difference for some participants.
"I love this job, I get to see the success stories," program manager Danna Minnick said. "The one I think about was no great job. He was working for the city, didn't want to go to school, didn't want to do that, so he was working at minimum wage for the city. He spent the summer picking up dead animals along the side of the road. So by fall, he was ready to go on to college. It was a stinky wake up call for him, but he ended up going on and getting a degree at a four year college."
Other students who knew what they wanted to do were able to work in doctors' offices and with other professionals in their chosen fields. This can mean anything from working with the judicial branch of the tribe to standing in on a surgery. It made some students realize their choice of a career field was a good one. For others, it gave them a chance to change their minds and go in a different direction.
Minnick said many students "age out," that is work with the program until they are too old, returning to the same job each summer.
The end result has been students who learned how to fill out job applications, dress appropriately, be on time and other workplace etiquette they might not have been able to get at such a young age.
Participants don't have to be members of the Creek Nation, "They just have to be members of a federally recognized tribe and pass our guidelines," Minnick said.
She and her co-workers also help students put together resumes, get their GEDs and help them stay on track with their jobs. Certified teachers are hired in the summer to work with students, something Minnick says has been very successful.
"They have heard all the excuses, and the fact that they are teachers gives them the ability to work with students well."
The program boasts lawyers, physician's assistants and even a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar, but for Minnick, the reward is the successful lives in which she sees former students.
"They come back to see us and bring their children. The lives they are living are our success stories."